There’s no getting around it: Rome (and the rest of Italy) is absolutely packed this summer. The Colosseum, Vatican, and Spanish Steps are on everyone’s A-list of sights to take in while visiting Italy’s capital, and these iconic attractions are often overrun with tourists even in relatively slow years. This season has been the busiest in the history of tourism to the Eternal City, so it can be a challenge to even approach these headliners (tickets to the Colosseum and Vatican Museums are selling out within minutes of going online), much less enjoy them in peace.
Luckily, Rome has endless ancient and historic treasures to explore, so you don’t necessarily have to follow the beaten path. To escape the queues and crowds, head instead to one of the many unusual and unique sights and activities that the city offers. Here are a few suggestions for how to avoid the crowds in Rome with some surprising and lesser-known things to see and do:
Admire Street Art
While the throngs fill the Vatican Museums, you can take in the city’s vibrant street art scene in a number of neighborhoods around the city center. Street art is famously ephemeral and works are added (or, sadly, destroyed) somewhat regularly. so we suggest taking a guided walking or Vespa scooter tour through the street-art-rich districts of San Lorenzo, Ostiense, or Pigneto/Torpignattara to take in murals and stencils by some of the most cutting-edge Roman and Italian street artists. Otherwise, stop by the Metro B stations at Santa Maria del Soccorso, Rebibbia, Monti Tiburtini, and Ponte Mammolo and Metro A station at Piazza di Spagna for a quick peek at some city-sponsored street art.
Walk in the Footsteps of the Ancients
The Appian Way (Via Appia Antica), the oldest and most important Imperial Roman highway, was built in the fourth century BC and stretched from Rome to Brindisi on the opposite coast. Originally used to transport supplies and soldiers throughout the Roman Empire, this cobblestone road still exists today, lined with archaeological sites and ancient ruins. Walk or cycle along a stretch from the Aurelian Walls to the countryside just outside the city, stopping along the way to visit ancient catacombs, villa ruins, and even a soaring section of an ancient Roman aqueduct.
See a Bone Chapel
Set beneath the Church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini along the elegant Via Veneto, the Capuchin Crypt is a series of six small chapels decorated with intricate and hauntingly beautiful designs created by human bones and skulls covering the chapel walls and ceilings. Used to bury monks between 1528 and 1870, the crypt is one of the most unique and unforgettable sights in Rome; it has been “discovered” in recent years so is not as quiet as it once was, but it’s still a welcome break from the throngs elsewhere in the city and a solid option when you’re not sure how to avoid the crowds in Rome.
Rome may be one of the world’s great art capitals, but you don’t have to limit yourself to visiting its spectacular museums and galleries. There are a number of hands-on art studios and workshops around the city that offer minicourses in everything from making mosaics to working with leather. You can also opt for a sketching or photography tour, both of which combine sightseeing and creativity. This is an especially great option for families traveling with kids who need a break from cultural tours but also need to be kept entertained during the day. Even young children can assemble a simple mosaic, and older kids enjoy painting or snapping photos en plein air.
The Largo di Torre Argentina archeological site may be where Julius Caesar was murdered on the Ides of March, but today is much more famous for its populous cat colony. Home to a cat sanctuary that takes in strays from Rome and the surrounding areas to be cared for and put up for adoption, the site is a popular place for passers-by to pause and admire dozens of felines lounging among the Roman ruins. The site itself underwent a major restoration and opened to the public just last month, so offers a great alternative for ancient history buffs who want to admire Roman ruins without the scrum at the Colosseum.
Be Gladiator for a Day
Kids who have had their fill of touring Roman ruins will enjoy making history come to life at Rome’s gladiator school. In just a few hours, young travelers learn how the gladiators lived, trained, and fought, and get pointers on hand-to-hand combat and sword fighting during a practice battle. The school also includes a small gladiator museum with weapons, costumes, and other memorabilia to keep the whole family engaged when you’re not sure how to avoid the crowds in Rome. This is a great afternoon activity to pair with a kid-focused Colosseum tour earlier in the day, but keep in mind that both of these activities are outdoors, so can be a challenge for young children when the summer temps soar.
Rome is an ancient city, and much of its history is hidden beneath the modern streets and squares. Take a deep dive into the past by heading underground to take in some of the most fascinating ancient ruins, catacombs and crypts, proto-Christian churches, and other archaeological treasures. In addition to fewer visitors, these underground sites offer the added perk of refreshingly cooler temperatures in the hot summer months. Our favorites include the catacombs along the Appian Way, the Basilica of San Clemente, and the Domitian Stadium under Piazza Navona.
Take the TramJazz
Ride through the city on board a vintage tram while enjoying a candlelight dinner and live jazz concert by booking an evening on TramJazz, one of the most unique ways to take in Rome by night. The tram sets off from Piazza di Porta Maggiore at 9 p.m. and winds its way past some of the city’s most famous sights during the three-hour ride. If you’re now sure how to avoid the crowds in Rome after sunset, just hop on this charming tram.
Visit a Doll Hospital
The tiny, cluttered Restauri Artistici Squatriti near Piazza del Popolo has been repairing antique and vintage dolls for over half a century, and is known locally as the Ospedale delle Bambole, or Doll Hospital. The workshop’s windows are piled high with dismembered porcelain doll heads and limbs, but that doesn’t deter doll collectors and antique dealers from across the globe who come here for the Squatriti family’s renowned skill and expertise in repairing and restoring these precious playthings.
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